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Christmas has come early at Highland Wildlife Park
Photo - © Aaron Sneddon
Christmas has come early for young Walker the polar bear as he enjoyed his first Scottish
snowfall at the
Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie.
Keepers looked on as Walker, who will celebrate his second birthday in December, frolicked and rolled around in the snow in his enclosure after the park's first heavy snowfall.
Douglas Richardson, Animal Collection Manager at the Highland Wildlife Park said, ‘This is Walker’s first taste of Scottish snow and, as expected, he has been in his element. He has settled in at the park very well so far, but this cold snap will make him feel even more at home.
‘Being such a young bear he is naturally very playful and active, but last night’s snowfall was like an early Christmas present, giving him something else to play with.’
Meanwhile Mercedes, the park’s first resident polar bear, also relaxed in the cooler temperatures.
Douglas continued, ‘Mercedes experienced the heavy snowfall we had here last year so she is no stranger to Highland weather, but she loves the wintery conditions and has been thoroughly enjoying the early snowfall - albeit in a rather more demure way than Walker!’
Walker arrived at the Highland Wildlife Park earlier this month from Rhenen Zoo, Holland. He joined Mercedes as only the second polar bear in a public collection in the UK.
• Walker was born in Rhenen Zoo in Holland on 7 December 2008. He was moved to the Highland Wildlife Park after his half sister, Freedom, became pregnant and needed to retire to her cubbing den; his mother will also soon be coming on heat and will be reintroduced to the adult male, Walker’s dad.
• RZSS was initially contacted in September by Rhenen Zoo and the coordinator for the polar bear European Endangered Species Programme (EEP). The polar bear EEP coordinates the movement of animals around European zoo collection as part of the breeding programme, and these moves are largely based on the quality of the enclosures. Having one of the largest polar bear enclosures in the world, the Highland Wildlife Park was top of the list for his new home and Walker is now the second polar bear in a public collection in the UK.
• For the next two to three years Walker will live with Mercedes in the current polar bear enclosure, but when he nears sexual maturity he will be moved to a new enclosure on the other side of the park and will be our future breeding male.
• Like Mercedes, Walker will have a comprehensive and constantly evolving enrichment programme to stimulate him. He will also be trained by the keepers to allow simple health and weight checks, without the need for anesthesia.
• Mercedes, the only polar bear in a UK zoo, had been resident at Edinburgh Zoo from 1984 until 2009, when she moved to the Highland Wildlife Park. She was rescued from her native Canada after she was scheduled to be shot. Unfortunately she began roaming into a nearby town in search of food and, as they are dangerous animals, this behaviour had to be discouraged. Initially, she was captured and the number ‘39’ was painted on her coat which allowed her to be tracked. On her third visit the decision was made to shoot her. Luckily, she was rescued and RZSS offered her a home at Edinburgh Zoo.
• It was one of RZSS’s life members who helped rescue Mercedes from Canada. She enlisted the help of her cousin, a former Minister of Fisheries in Canada, to find a new home for her.
• When Mercedes arrived at Edinburgh Zoo she was paired with a male polar bear called Barney. They reared two cubs, To-Nuik and Ohoto. Barney passed away 13 years ago, since then Mercedes has been on her own.
RZSS future polar bear plans
• RZSS announced plans last year to keep polar bears in its animal collection at the Highland Wildlife Park for the foreseeable future and, in the long term, to contribute to the conservation and understanding of this increasingly threatened species.
• It was originally planned that Mercedes would remain on her own until she dies, but as full participants of the European Polar Bear Breeding Programme, we have had to review our original intention and timeline following Walker’s special case.
• Walker will not reach sexual maturity for at least another three years, in which time a new polar bear enclosure will have been built at the Highland Wildlife Park for him to be transferred to.
• A new female will be designated in the future for the Park and placed in the existing enclosure, but not until Mercedes dies. The two bears will be brought together for the breeding season only, which replicates their natural behaviour in the wild, in the hope that they will produce cubs.
• For several years, the polar bear has not figured as a focus species for RZSS, other than ensuring that Mercedes got the best level of care we could offer. Unfortunately, due to the accelerated rate of climate change in the Arctic, the polar bear population in the wild is now perched on the edge of a precipitous decline.
• Polar bear field biologists affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have suggested that the captive population of polar bears in well-managed zoos may indeed have a key role to play and that an active partnership between the field and zoo communities could benefit the species.
About Highland Wildlife Park
• The Highland Wildlife Park is owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland which also owns Edinburgh Zoo.
• RZSS was founded by visionary lawyer Thomas Gillespie. The Society was set up in 1909 ‘to promote, facilitate and encourage the study of zoology and kindred subjects and to foster and develop amongst the people an interest in and knowledge of animal life’.
• The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is a registered charity, charity no SC004064.
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